NJ Gov. Phil Murphy announces statewide expansion of AP African American course

Students sit in two rows facing each other as a teacher stands in the middle.
New Jersey will expand the AP African American course to 26 schools across the state, including six in Newark. (Jessie Gomez / Chalkbeat)

New Jersey will expand Advanced Placement African American Studies courses to 26 schools statewide, including six in Newark, starting next school year.

Gov. Phil Murphy made the announcement at Science Park High School on Tuesday while discussing the history of slavery with students in the school’s African American History class. Currently, Union County Vocational Technical High School is the only New Jersey school that offers the AP course. 

“We want to expand the story and tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, even when it hurts,” said Murphy, a Democrat. “Our people of all races and ethnicities will be stronger for it, our society will be stronger, our country will be stronger and better for it.”

Currently, Newark offers an African American History curriculum that includes lessons on the contributions and struggles of Black people in the United States. Students learn about ancient Africa, the enslavement of African people in the U.S., and the struggle for civil rights, among other topics. The curriculum was created in 2020 thanks to a push from advocates who demanded Newark schools devote more time to African American history. 

Much like Newark’s curriculum, the recently released College Board framework for the course will explore the “Origins of the African Diaspora” as well as “Movements and Debates.” In August, College Board rolled out the AP course across 60 schools nationwide as part of the first stage of its two-year pilot program with an initial draft framework. Next school year, the pilot expands to hundreds of high schools nationwide, including New Jersey. Pilot students take the first AP African American Studies exam in the spring of 2024 and all schools can begin offering the course during the 2024-25 school year. 

But after disapproval from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republican leaders, College Board released its official course framework earlier this month and removed much of the criticized content from the initial draft, including Black queer studies, reparations, and an example of the writings of poet and activist Amiri Baraka, father of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, among other notable activists. 

“This begins with Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida. And it’s unacceptable and frankly shameful,” Murphy said. 

Murphy’s news comes nearly a month after DeSantis blocked the new course from being taught in Florida public schools, alleging it violated a state law that restricts how race and racism are taught. 

“There are people who have fought, even lost their lives to make sure that there were not just African American studies but women’s studies, Chicano studies, Asian studies,” Baraka said. “And it just doesn’t make sense that the College Board would limit the universal ideas that are available in this country.”

Now, Newark and other districts in New Jersey that include the new course will have to decide if they will incorporate much of what the College Board removed.

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Murphy said it’s up to districts “to build back into the curriculum, as they see fit.”

Additionally, New Jersey leaders will have to address inequities among students of color who take AP courses in the state. During the 2020-21 school year, less than half of Black and Hispanic juniors and seniors across the state took at least one AP or IB class, compared to 41% of white students and 68% of Asian students.

Acting Commissioner of Education Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan and Superintendent Roger León were also in attendance Tuesday as they heard from Alnazir Blackman, who teaches the African African American History class at Science Park and will teach the AP course at the school next year. 

“As painful as this might be, including for nonblacks in this country, we have to face this history straight up,” Murphy said. 

​​Jessie Gomez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark, covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at jgomez@chalkbeat.org.

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